Los Angeles County Now Interim Administrator of Sativa Water District

Outside Sativa Water District the day it transitioned to new management.  Photo: Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas announced that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (DPW) has taken over the operations of Sativa Water District, which struggled for years to provide clean and clear water to its customers in Willowbrook and Compton.

“For far too long, our residents have had to endure the unacceptable – they had no idea what would flow when they turned on their tap. Enough is enough,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Los Angeles County is ready to step in and step up. Effective Nov. 1, the Department of Public Works will assume responsibility for operating the Sativa Water District, immediately begin to triage the situation, and prepare the community for a smooth transition to a competent water service provider that will ensure they have long-term access to the clean, clear and affordable water they deserve.”

As interim administrator, DPW will assess Sativa’s aging pipes and other infrastructure, and identify improvements necessary to ensure that water is clean and safe to drink.  It will also work with customers, the state, and the Local Agency Formation Commission to identify a long-term water service provider.

Community member demands clean water. Photo: Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

“Our goal is to restore public trust within this community and deliver safe, clean water to our new customers” said Public Works Director Mark Pestrella. “We look forward to assessing Sativa’s financial health and operational capabilities so we can deliver this community the sustainable water system it so desperately needs.”

A coalition of federal, state and local elected officials backed bipartisan legislation to ensure the appointment of an interim administrator for Sativa.

“When I learned of residents in the Sativa Water District experiencing brown, murky water, I authored a bill and held a town hall to address the issue,” said state Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson. “Clean water is a basic necessity that all people are entitled to.  My bill, AB 1577, delivers on that promise by replacing Sativa’s board of directors with a state administrator while charting a new path of stability and improved water quality. This has truly been a community effort and I want to recognize the Board of Supervisors for standing with me from the very beginning of this journey.”

“Today marks a new beginning for our community and its crusade for quality drinking water,” said U.S. Representative Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44). “I am pleased that the County of Los Angeles and its Department of Public Works has stepped in as acting administrator and has committed to assessing the current condition of the water system. I will continue to work with the County Supervisors on behalf of my constituents to ensure that every household in our community has clean and safe drinking water.”

“I’m relieved that the county will be assuming the role as the administrator of the Sativa Water District and confident that along with the passage of AB 1577, we can continue to transition the water district to the agency best equipped to ensure longstanding, high-quality water and services to over 6,000 of our constituents,” added state Senator Steven Bradford (D – Gardena).

Sativa served about 6,800 people in a service area that spans about one-third of a square mile in South Los Angeles. Because of its inability to provide proper maintenance of its 70-year-old pipes, its customers have had to endure episodes of brown water running through their taps. In the past, Sativa has also faced allegations of mismanagement and nepotism.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said DPW is well suited for the role of interim administrator as it has extensive experience operating water systems countywide, and currently serves 245,000 customers.

Identifying a new long-term water service provider could take 12 to 18 months. During that period, DPW would supervise the provision of water for Sativa’s customers. At the same time, it would review current system operations, maintenance and financial procedures with a focus on optimizing water quality and preparing for a new, long-term water provider.

When Sativa customers expressed alarm about brown water running through their taps last April, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed an urgency motion to conduct an investigation, prevent serious risks to public health, and determine whether appropriate management and governance of the water district is in place to address Sativa’s neglect of its pipes and related infrastructure. Over the summer, he authored motions to champion AB 1577, and to confirm the County’s willingness to play the role of interim administrator.